Miracles

As the inspiring Ringu Tulku mentioned the Buddha’s statement that the real miracle is the miracle of instruction, the post below from 3 years ago seems relevant…. so it is bumped up to the front ….

Just to be clear the following was written about a dharma talk 3 years ago by someone other than Ringu Tulku Rinpoche. It introduces the topic raised by Rinpoche that the ‘greatest miracle is that of the teaching’

Curiouser and Curiouser cried Alice, so surprised she quite forgot how to speak good English.

So goes Alice’s reaction to some miraculous happenings. Happenings that in Wonderland were harmlessly entertaining.

The Buddha, in the mythology, did perform a number of miracles. They were rather few, and many of the stories one hears actually come from the commentaries rather than the suttas themselves. That is not to say the miraculous does not appear in the Suttas, but it plays a small part, and is usually somewhat ‘incidental’. However, there is a love amongst the faithful, of all things miraculous, as well as assurance in certain (or uncertain) special powers of some people, both monk and lay.

I always keep an open mind and before dismissing stories as stories keep the mantra in mind “Maybe its true, maybe its true…”. That means you do not have to believe and you do not have to disbelieve.

The topic comes up because there was a Dhamma talk in English in Bangkok by a monk from a famous temple, and I won’t name names, in which he introduced a number of ‘miracle’ stories. One was that if a monk skilled in meditation practises Metta (loving kindness) meditation, he will become indestructible. An illustration of this, we were told, is a tale of a monk who was practising in that way, and some passers by thought he was dead – he was so still even his breathing had stopped. We were told that the people picked him up and put him on a funeral pyre so that he would be properly cremated and not just eaten by Jackals. Not only was the monk unaware of being picked up and placed on a pyre, but also blissfully unaware of being set on fire. Because of his Metta meditation the fire did not harm him and he later aroused to find remains of the burned out pyre all around him. He, and conveniently his robes too, were unharmed by the fire.

And this was only one advantage of Metta meditation. Another is that no poison can kill you, and no weapons can harm you. The monk seemed unsure of bullets – would the would-be assassin be unable to fire the gun, or would the bullet ricochet off ones body (also not harming the robes ?? we were not told) he was not sure, but it was beyond doubt that no bullet or other weapon could inflict harm on the meditating monk. There were of course no guns in the Buddha’s time, but I felt it a little immaterial to bring this up during the ‘talk’. The monk chopped around several of the 11 advantages of Metta meditation but was unable to remember them all, and anyhow, quickly zig-zagged his way to another miracle story unrelated to metta.

A quick note on this, the 11 advantages of Metta meditation as listed in the Anguttara Nikaya 11:16 are:

One sleeps happily; one wakes happily; one does not suffer bad dreams; one is dear to human beings; one is dear to non-human beings; the gods protect one; no fire or poison or weapon harms one; one’s mind gets quickly concentrated; the expression of one’s face is serene; one dies unperturbed; and even if one fails to attain higher states, one will at least reach the state of the Brahma world.

Next we heard about a group of greedy false-hearted ‘city monks’ who desired to take over a town from the ‘good practising forest monks’ and persuaded a woman to run up to the ‘good forest monks’ (the speaker was a forest monk) and embrace them in order to take photographs which would then bring disrepute to those monks and force them to leave. Unfortunately for the lady, the monk she chose had been doing concentration on the fire kasina (mental representation of fire/heat). He looked up as she approached and accidentally zapped the woman with psychic power – she receiving a nasty burn on her breast. Quite how or if the monk knew about her intentions was not revealed, and would be speculative anyway, because the woman fled. So the story of the attempt at discrediting the ‘good’ monks remains just a story.

Nonsense like this goes a long way to discrediting Buddhism. Many westerners approach Buddhism because of its clarity and direction. It is a very rational religion, with many well thought out principles and practises, but it suffers from anecdotal miracle stories like the above. Whether such stories are in fact true or not is quite beside the point, this is not the way the Buddha was teaching, and not the way in which public talks should try and present dhamma.

For my part I remained entirely silent, making use of the space and time to relax my mind after delivering a rather complex presentation the hour before. But the speaker sent word to the organisers that I should be escorted from the building – apparently his temple has a policy of not speaking with other monks or nuns in the building. Curiouser and curiouser indeed.

Now I have to admit of telling the odd supernatural tale myself at times. But like Alice I quickly realise and berate myself

 Oh, dear! What nonsense I’m talking!”

Public talks are for real Dhamma, but nonetheless I have been drawn into the topic in private conversation. So this is a good reminder to myself too, to be aware of this, and to reflect on the Buddha’s own advice to his monks on the topic. What he said is coming up in ‘Miracles’ part II

Click for Part II

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About Cittasamvaro

Auto blogography of an urban monk
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2 Responses to Miracles

  1. wyaryan says:

    No part II “tomorrow” (Nov 6th) as promised. Could that be called a miracle? Please, let’s have more on this topic!

  2. curiousholly says:

    About these miracles, they are part of teachings and traditions carried down from the very early days of Buddhism. Is it possible these tales were spun by later Buddhist teachers, like Aesop or Uncle Remus, who wanted to impart the message in a meaningful (at the time) way? If this doesn’t suit our particular spiritual needs, there are many other places to go in Buddhist study and practice to either fulfil our needs or help us understand why we have them.
    Vipassana may be the preferred practice of intellectuals and obsessives, while the stories appeal to the more socially inclined, and the miracles give hope to the hopeless (St. Jude?). And thus I would say, “Leave the miracles alone!” because I believe that the Buddha would say despair is bad for you. :)Keep smiling.

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